Cape Nature Conservation

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The proliferation of holiday resorts, and particularly large-scale developments such as polo fields, golf courses and golf estates in the Southern Cape coastal area has now reached a stage where intervention at a high level is required. More and more of the last remaining natural areas containing critical habitats for plants and animals are being fragmented and destroyed by developments at an alarming rate. Ecological corridors linking the mountains to the sea, as well as corridors along the coast, are now almost impossible to establish.

Conservation significance of the Southern Cape area

From a conservation point of view, the Southern Cape is a truly unique and very special area. Two of the 27 globally recognised biodiversity hotspots, namely the Fynbos and Sub-Tropical Thicket biomes, occur here. Both these biomes are known to be very rich in species, many of which are endemic to the region. The two biomes often become intertwined to form mosaic vegetation units, which are rich in localised endemic species adapted to the specific mosaic habitat conditions.

The vegetation of the area between Still Bay and Plettenberg Bay, as compiled from both the STEP (Sub-Tropical Thicket Ecosystem Planning) and CAPE (Cape Action for People and the Environment) maps is illustrated in Figure 1 and Figure 3 (Vlok & Euston-Brown 2002, Lombard et al. 2003). Most of the vegetation units in the area have very limited distribution ranges, for example Hartenbos Strandveld, Robberg Dune Thicket, Keurbooms Grassy Fynbos and Albertinia Sandplain Fynbos.

The extent of transformation in the same area is shown in Figure 2 and Figure 4 . It should be noted that these data represents the 1998 extent of transformation by urbanisation, cultivation, heavy grazing, forestry and dense stands of alien plants and have been derived from remote sensing done for the CAPE project by Lloyd et al. (1999). It is also important to bear in mind that the transformation information, particularly for alien plant invasions, agricultural expansion and coastal developments, is underrepresented because of the time that has lapsed since the CAPE study was done. Even from this underestimated and incomplete information it is evident that transformation has had a significant impact on most of the vegetation units, with very little remaining of Riversdale Coast Renosterveld, Hartenbos Strandveld, Robberg Dune Thicket, Herbertsdale Renoster Thicket, Blanco Fynbos Renosterveld Mosaic and Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma Plateau Fynbos.

Within most of the vegetation units in the area, virtually nothing is conserved in formal statutory protected areas. Only a part of the Goukamma Dune Fynbos and Knysna Afromontane Forest, and a small proportion of Still Bay and Robberg Dune Thicket fall into areas managed by the Western Cape Nature Conservation Board (WCNCB), South African National Parks and Dept. of Water Affairs and Forestry.

According to the results of the CAPE and STEP projects most of this area has been identified as being highly to totally irreplaceable (80% -100%) in terms of its conservation value. In addition, the conservation status maps from the STEP report show that the entire region falls within the 'Endangered' or 'Critically Endangered' categories: these maps are in the STEP Handbook (Pierce 2003) which has been circulated to all local authorities for incorporation into IDPs and SDFs. Owing to this high conservation status, which is driven by the high levels of transformation and future threats, any further loss of these vegetation units will compromise conservation options substantially. The STEP-Project in particular emphasised the importance of establishing a coastal corridor (referred to as the Dune Megaconservancy Network). Along the coast, many ecological and evolutionary processes are aligned along east-west climatic and biogeographic gradients (Vlok et al. (2003). Options for maintaining any continuous coastal corridor have already been almost totally foreclosed, but any remaining natural vegetation should receive protection of the highest status.

Main impacts of large-scale developments

To highlight and explain the problems associated with large-scale developments the distribution of golf courses and golf estates in the Southern Cape is shown in Figures 5 and 6. A total of 40 existing and proposed golf courses and estates are indicated on the maps. It should be noted that most of the golf courses marked as ' existing ' have been developed after 1997, i.e. after the Section 21 activities and EIA regulations under the Environmental Conservation Act, 1989 (Act 73 of 1989) were promulgated in September 1997.

Habitat loss. Although it is often argued by developers and consultants that golf courses are a 'soft development option', the direct and indirect impacts of these developments on the biophysical environment are substantial in the long term. Golf courses and golf estates take up vast areas of land and mostly lead to significant habitat loss and fragmentation.

When comparing the golf course maps Figure 5 and Figure 6 with the transformation maps of 1999 Figure 2 and Figure 4 , it is evident that most of these golf courses and estates are or will be impacting on some of the remaining natural areas, thereby resulting in more habitat loss.

Habitat fragmentation. Fragmentation of natural areas as a result of these large-scale developments is having a significant impact on some of the ecological processes that sustain the vegetation units. In particular, the vegetation units that are dependent on fire (e.g. Hartenbos Strandveld, Herbertsdale Renoster Thicket, Blanco Fynbos Renosterveld Mosaic, Outeniqua Plateau Fynbos, Tsitsikamma Plateau Fynbos, etc.) are being affected. Fire plays an integral role in the maintenance of species diversity and ecological processes in fynbos and renosterveld. Research has indicated that it is critical that fynbos fires have to be carried out under hot and dry conditions during late summer (i.e. February or March) to obtain the high intensity that is required for optimal regeneration and seedling recruitment. When fynbos vegetation is fragmented by developments (e.g. houses, buildings, infrastructure, etc.), it becomes almost impossible to burn the fynbos patches under optimal conditions, because of fear that houses or infrastructure could burn down. If fire is kept out of the fragmented fynbos areas for too long, the species composition of these areas will be altered, as thicket species will establish on these sites, which will eventually outshade and replace the fynbos species (e.g. Brenton Blue Butterfly Reserve). Likewise, if these ecological burns are executed under cool, wet conditions (i.e. not the mentioned optimal conditions) the species composition will also change, because resprouting species will be favoured at the cost of many of the non-sprouting species.

Whenever these facts have been pointed out to consultants, developers, as well as the authorities, they have continuously received marginal attention (e.g. comments on Roodefontein Golf Estate, Pinnacle Point Golf Estate, Turtle Creek Golf Estate, etc.). The normal response received is that fire is a management issue, which will be addressed in the operational phase environmental management plan for the development. We need to point out that not one of the existing developments have yet implemented a burning programme under optimal conditions, because of fear that houses or infrastructure could burn down. In addition, no or very little enforcement or compliance monitoring is taking place.

In addition, fragmentation of vegetation units by large-scale developments also affects the linkage between different units which is vital for the migration of genetic material of plants and animals. This linkage is critical for the maintenance of the integrity of many species in the area.

Water provision. The provision of water to these large-scale developments is a matter of serious concern. This is an issue which has also been repeatedly raised by the WCNCB. Consultants and developers usually respond by saying that it is the duty of the local authority to supply water to the development.

For irrigation of the golf courses, developers often indicate that recycled sewerage water will be used. When they are informed about the fact that nutrient enrichment of the soils will be detrimental to the fynbos (which is adapted to nutrient poor soils), they respond by saying that the issue will be dealt with in the environmental management plan of the development. It is unlikely that even the best engineered mitigatory measures can prevent the draining of nutrient enriched water into adjacent fynbos areas. The relevant precautionary principle should be accentuated in this regard.

Surveys carried out by the River Conservation Unit of the WCNCB have indicated that most of the rivers in the Southern Cape are already severely stressed due to over-utilisation. Furthermore, most of the coastal towns experience water shortage problems during peak holiday periods. We are concerned that the ad hoc approach to the water supply issue will eventually lead to more large-scale groundwater abstraction schemes, such as the one in the Kammanassie Mountains, which has proven to have a substantial detrimental impact on the environment.


  • There is an immediate need for a fine-scale conservation plan for the entire area to ensure that informed decisions can be taken regarding the ability of the region's biodiversity and it's related natural processes to sustain any further developments.
  • The argument used by developers and consultants that golf courses and golf estates are essential, because many jobs are created, needs to be investigated. A study needs to be commissioned to determine how many sustainable jobs are really created by these large-scale developments.
  • Intensive alien clearing programmes should be undertaken to prevent further degradation of currently intact coastal vegetation.
  • Alternative sites for golf courses should be environmentally identified. There are many degraded areas near the coastline and these would be more suitable for golf courses than pristine or near pristine coastal vegetation.
  • Serious consideration should be given to a comprehensive and strategic compliance management strategy. Until such time as developers are taken to court for non-compliance, they will keep on ignoring development conditions and environmental legislation.
  • The potential impact of all developments on available water resources should be investigated before any approval is given.

The Garden Route is renowned for it's unique landscapes and natural splendour. The maintenance of its environmental integrity is the very fragile platform on which sustainable socio-economic development is constructed for the benefit of all it's communities, present and future. All the relevant authorities in partnership with the communities we serve, need to take collective responsibility to ensure that this platform is protected at all cost.

Cowling R.M., Lombard A.T., Rouget M., Kerley G.I.H., Wolf T., Sims-Castley R., Knight A., Vlok J.H.J., Pierce S.M., Boshoff A.F. & Wilson, S.L., 2003. A Conservation Assessment for the Subtropical Thicket Biome, Terrestrial Ecology Research Unit, Port Elizabeth

Lloyd JW, van den Berg EC and van Wyk E 1999 The mapping of threats to biodiversity in the Cape Floristic Region with the aid of remote sensing and geographic information systems. Agricultural Research Council - Institute for Soil, Climate and Soil Report No. GW/A1999/54. ARC, Pretoria.

Lombard, A.T., Wolf, T & Cole, N. 2003. GIS coverages and spatial analyses for the Subtropical Thicket Ecosystem Planning (STEP) Project. Terrestrial Ecology Research Unit, University of Port Elizabeth. Report 42: 78 pp.

Pierce, S.M. 2003. The STEP Handbook. Integrating the natural environment into land use decisions at the municipal level: towards sustainable development. Terrestrial Ecology Research Unit Report No. 47. University of Port Elizabeth.

Vlok, J.H.J. & Euston-Brown, D. 2002. Report by biological survey component for conservation planning for biodiversity in the Thicket Biome. Terrestrial Ecology Research Unit, University of Port Elizabeth.

Vlok, J.H.J., Euston-Brown, D. & Cowling, R.M. 2003. Acocks' Valley Bushveld - 50 years on: New perspectives on the delimitation, characterisation and origin of sub-tropical thicket. SA J. Bot. 69(1): 27-51.

Enquiries: Ms M Naudé
Telephone: 021-483 4608





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